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  3 Keys to Higher Job Satisfaction at Multinationals 

Cerdin, Jean-Luc; Sharma, Kushal; Liao, Yuan
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Rising through the ranks of a multinational firm isn't easy. On top of the typical work stresses, ambitious employees at multinationals usually have to deal with frequent travel, extended work hours and a high degree of uncertainty. So how can management keep global talent satisfied with their demanding jobs?

Research by Jean-Luc Cerdin, Kushal Sharma and IESE's Yuan Liao homes in on a few factors at work and finds three of them crucial to job satisfaction. In a nutshell, (1) employees' self-perception as being part of a select talent pool, and (2) their perceived career prospects are positively related to job satisfaction, and those effects are stronger among (3) those who are attracted to new experiences to explore other countries and cultures. These results have practical implications for global talent management.

Who's Got Talent?
The authors' study centers on a U.S.-based services company with subsidiaries in over 100 countries. As is increasingly common, this multinational quietly selects a fraction of its highest performing employees for its talent pool -- an elite group receiving special attention in terms of training and opportunities. Although certain employees suspect they are included in the talent pool because of the special attention and training they receive, the company does not explicitly confirm such suspicions, so as not to discourage the vast majority who are not. Here, what the authors analyze is the employees' perception of themselves as talent -- not whether they actually were.

Controlling for other variables that might be considered relevant (e.g., age, job tenure and gender), the authors find, through their targeted surveys, that "talent perception" is positively correlated to employees' "perceived career prospects" as well as their "job satisfaction" overall. In other words, how far employees think they can climb the corporate ladder is positively related to how happy they are with their jobs in this multinational company. And being quiet about talent management -- for the sake of workforce morale and motivation -- has its advantages here.

International Orientation
In the realm of global business, what else might help predict job satisfaction? The authors target two additional factors and find one of them to be significant:
  1. Attitude about international work experiences: The authors look at how much employees want to work in international environments and develop their international careers. They do this using a scale developed by colleagues in previous research -- the "internationalism career anchor" (ICA) scale -- which is meant to capture how much employees are attracted by new experiences to explore other countries and cultures. The survey results reveal that having a high ICA score strengthens the positive relationship between perceived career prospects and job satisfaction in this multinational. In other words, employees who prefer international work experience report higher levels of job satisfaction than those who do not, given the same level of perceived career prospects.

  2. Cultural intelligence (CQ): Having CQ -- i.e., the ability to work well in multicultural settings -- might be expected to be relevant to the relationship between perceived career prospects and job satisfaction at multinationals. CQ helps talents realize their perceived career prospects and thus may make them more satisfied with their job. On the other hand, talents who lack such capabilities (low CQ) might experience more difficulties and stresses in their international assignments and thus could feel dissatisfied. However, the data doesn't bear this out. The authors note their surprise, and also surmise that perhaps the employees surveyed possess a threshold level of cultural intelligence. This research suggests that, before actual international assignments, an employee's attitude (ICA) is more important than the ability (CQ) to handle those assignments when looking at job satisfaction.
In sum, when a company does not openly communicate who belongs to its talent pool (known as a "closed" talent management approach), it seems to be the perception of talent status that increases job satisfaction. Multinationals might also consider screening candidates for international assignments based on their attitudes and motivation about new, foreign experiences to ensure their employees enjoy and benefit from overseas assignments. Higher job satisfaction benefits everyone in the end.

Methodology, Very Briefly
The authors study a U.S.-based service company with subsidiaries in over 100 countries and more than 10,000 employees. This multinational selected less than 20 percent of its highest performing employees for its talent pool, but employees did not know whether or not they were included. Note that international assignments are emphasized and encouraged for career advancement in this company. The researchers sent out questionnaires to employees in early 2015, and then analyzed 258 responses from employees who considered themselves as talent (whether or not they actually were).
This article is based on:  The Role of Perceived Career Prospects and International Orientation in Determining Job Satisfaction of MNE Employees: A Moderated Mediation Model
Publisher:  Wiley Periodicals Inc.
Year:  2017
Language:  English